We attended the postponed 17th Biennale of Architecture in Venice 2021 and were truly amazed. Curated by Hashim Sarkis, the exhibition questions “How will we live together?”. Initially asked in 2019, Sarkis’ question referenced the societal impacts of global crises, including climate change and political chaos. However, since then, the world has faced another catastrophe in which we were forced to spend a year living apart: COVID-19. As such, this year’s theme couldn’t be more relevant, casting irony on our separation from one another throughout the pandemic. Now is the time when living together and finding connections with each other and our spaces are paramount.
The Biennale of Architecture in Venice, 2021 is subdivided into five, each questioning living together differently. These are Among Diverse Beings, As New Households, As Emerging Communities, Across Borders, and As One Planet. In total, 112 participants from 46 different countries partook in the exhibition, including Hashim Sarkis himself. Here’s a look at our favorite works unveiled and the answer to the all-important question: How will we live together?
Timeless Theme Orchestrating Solutions
The theme selected by Hashim Sarkis, “How will we live together?” is a timeless and urgent question. Having been asked throughout history, humans have yet to find an answer. Instead, political divides worsen, global inequalities are becoming more polarized, and climate change is at its pinnacle. However, the question is as much spatial as it is political. The Biennale of Architecture in Venice, 2021, showcases the link between architecture and solutions to ongoing global issues. It is inspired by the radicalization of younger generations and the role of architecture in dealing with these challenges. And, according to Sarkis, design, and architecture are primary tools in repairing inequality.
Finding Human Connection Through Architecture
The Biennale of Architecture in Venice, 2021, opens at the human scale with the Among Diverse Beings exhibit. The section looks at the barriers that exist between people. It is filled with human figures and intricate installations that look towards finding solutions. Silk Road Works by Austrian designer Azra Aksamija is one of our favorites, discussing cultural bias. In particular, it seems at the marginality of Islamic identities and how wearing headscarves is often seen as a threat. In Aksamija’s design, the unifying position of the four figures in builders’ outfits represents the construction of an inclusive society. In this world, marginalized cultures and religions don’t exist.
Heavy Duty Love by Lucy McRae also looks at the relationship between people. Instead of cultural bias, her memory foam installation deals with separation and the need for human touch. Her work looks at a wholly redefined future where her squishy installation replaces the need for human intimacy. In the end, could our need for love be replaced by machines?
Living in Harmony with All Species
The project not only looks at our connections with other humans but also all species. Two works that discuss humans living with other organisms are Variations on a Bird Cage and Alive: A New Spatial Contract for Multispecies Architecture. Studio Ossidiana curates the former. It reimagines the archetype of a cage both physically and symbolically. Rather than a formal encloser, the studio transforms it into a space that allows different species to connect. The latter is by The Living, which focuses on people residing in harmony with microbial communities. Its hive-like structure is made from porous materials that provide optimal living conditions for microbes. In this way, this new spatial concept serves a dual purpose; providing spaces for humans and microbes simultaneously. At the same time, it deals with the idea of living together and interspecies exchange.
Grove by Philip Beesley & Living Architecture Systems Group takes on the limitations between humans and animals alike. The installation at the Biennale of Architecture in Venice, 2021, is made from floating columns and mesh cloud-like canopies. This is paired with a 3D soundscape, a light display, and video footage. It asks us to question why we live inside boundaries and walls, segregating ourselves from one another and nature. Grove casts a vision for the future where we live in intertwined, open, and exchanging environments.
Modular & Flexible Home Design Solutions
As New Households at the Biennale of Architecture in Venice, 2021 looks at diversifying the spaces in which we live. It deals with the challenges of adapting to new demographics and societal needs. One ongoing theme is the idea of modular design solutions offering flexibility. Micro-Urbanism by SSD uses this concept for its design inspiration. The studio proposes a new take on housing by combining smaller micro-units to create larger inhabitable spaces. This allows a new level of flexibility, a challenge that static urban architecture is currently facing with the ongoing societal changes.
AW-ARCH further looks at how small changes affect the big picture. In their work House+Plus, the studio uses modular furniture that allows interiors to respond to the particular needs of the inhabitants. It offers a solution to designing accessory dwelling units in the US, including tiny homes within pre-existing architecture. However, this solution could be repurposed for many shared and small living spaces worldwide.
Shared Spaces and Interconnected Communities
Rather than thinking small and modular, other curators’ inputs to the As New Households exhibit were inspired by thinking big. One Open Tower by Nicholas Laisne Architectes is an example of answering the question by taking things vertically. Their five-meter tall model represents a tower block for use in urban environments. It works on the idea of incorporating shared spaces into a residential setting. The goal is to help form vertical communities rather than a tower of isolated homes and apartments. This way, we can connect and live with each other in harmony.
After the House: Privacy in a Shared World by Fernanda Canales also depicts a future of shared spaces. The project goes one step further, recognizing we share play and cities and air, water, and essential resources.
New Materials Offering Radical Solutions
Interwoven at the Biennale of Architecture in Venice, 2021, further blurs the lines between households and private-public boundaries. This time, the effect is achieved through the use of materials. Leonmarcial Arquitectos symbolizes this using wooden building blocks that merge the outside and inside worlds. By removing physical boundaries, people can interact and co-exist with ease. To apply this solution to real life, we need to go back to the basics. We must alter the building blocks that make up our societies and current architectural models. In this way, the use of wooden blocks in the design is even more fitting.
Material Culture: Rethinking The Physical Substrate For Living Together supports this idea, looking at how new materials help connect people. The installation by Achim Menges is made mainly from Maison Fiber made from glass and carbon fiber. This creates open and more communal, interconnected spaces. From an environmental standpoint, it also tackles the issues of climate change. Each building uses a minimal amount of Maison Fiber and reduces environmentally harmful materials used in construction. This radical solution could hold answers to the architecture of our future.